National Planning Minister Trevor Manuel. Picture: SUNDAY TIMES
National Planning Minister Trevor Manuel. Picture: SUNDAY TIMES

PLANNING Minister Trevor Manuel on Monday sought to calm rising tensions between the South African mining industry and the government, calling for improved dialogue and a better "compact".

Miners and the government had to "create the room where we are in a position to persuade each other", he said at the annual Mining Indaba in Cape Town.

Mr Manuel’s comments follow a fractious year in which the Marikana massacre capped a period of extended labour unrest during which South African mining production declined substantially.

Nerves have remained frayed, culminating in a harsh exchange last month between Mineral Resources Minister Susan Shabangu and Anglo American Platinum (Amplats) following the company’s decision to review 14,000 jobs at its mines.

Ms Shabangu said at the time that Amplats had "betrayed the trust" of the government and raised the prospect of the company losing its mining licence.

By contrast, Mr Manuel said on Monday: "We need to lower the volume of the exchanges between us. We need to get into a mode where we can persuade each other where the volume is not amplified."

The annual mining conference is an opportunity for a sober assessment of the state of interaction between key stakeholders in the industry, and Mr Manuel sought to encourage this reassessment.

"We need to recognise that there are no pat answers … that the people who lead must do this together and our commitment is to each other," he said.

Mr Manuel’s key project in the Presidency, the National Development Plan (NDP), will be implemented after being adopted by the Cabinet, and discussions are taking place at provincial level.

The NDP did not include a mining plan, he noted on Monday, but its key premise was that the better life it envisaged could only be delivered by "energising democracy".

He said the plan had been approved by the Cabinet on the day before the events at Marikana, which he suggested underlined the necessity for a "new kind of discussion for a new generation".

Mr Manuel touched on perspectives that the mining industry might also emphasise, such as the fact that South Africa’s mineral wealth meant little unless it was productively mined. He said there had to be certainty about the investment horizons and "sensible taxation".

But he also said he was particularly convinced by a 10-point commitment made by departing Anglo American CEO Cynthia Carroll at the Mining Lekgotla in June last year, which included the endorsement of sweeping efforts to restructure the mining industry.

The NDP undertook to "making the future work", he said, but if South Africa wanted to afford a better standard of living, it had to generate the resources required to do so — and the mining sector had to be a part of that.

"We must build from what we have, not from what we wish we had," Mr Manuel said.

South Africa had to commit to raising its mining output and increasing exports, it said. "Having the resource is good but merely having the resource does not mean much if it is outside of our control."

Also at the indaba on Monday, Ms Shabangu said the government would be “mindful” of South Africa’s global competitiveness when reviewing the mining sector’s taxes.

“On the issue of a resource rent tax, we are mindful we’ve got to compete. For a thriving mining industry, we’ve got to compete with Australia, Canada and other mining jurisdictions,” she said at an event organised by law firm Werksmans on the sidelines of the indaba.

“If there are any taxes that must be implemented, we must come up with a tax dispensation that will make us competitive,” she said, adding that South Africa had a regulatory framework and a “responsible” finance minister in Pravin Gordhan.

At the African National Congress’s elective conference in Mangaung in December, the ruling party ruled out nationalisation but said the state must secure a greater benefit from the country’s mineral wealth.

Mr Gordhan said in Davos last month that changes to the mining tax regime were not imminent.

With Allan Seccombe